Mexican foods are wildly popular in America and the world over. The delicious mixture of spices and flavors, not to mention the variety of choice, means that a Mexican dish will go down well any day of the week!
To make your meal is as authentic as possible you ideally want to sprinkle a liberal helping of yummy Queso Fresco to get that distinctive and tangy cheese flavor. Unfortunately however you may not always have it to hand. The good news is that there are several great substitutes that you may already have at home or be able to quickly pick up from the store.
In this article we’ll highlight the best Queso Fresco substitutes, as well as tell you how to make your own should you be feeling adventurous!
What is Queso Fresco?
Queso Fresco – literally ‘Fresh Cheese’ in Spanish, is a Mexican cheese made from a mixture of cow and goat milk. It has a mild, milky taste and a soft and crumbly texture. Compared to other cheeses Queso Fresco is also relatively low in salt, making it a great choice for people looking to cut down on the amount of sodium in their diet.
Whilst you can enjoy it by itself, Queso Fresco really comes in to its own as a complement to other Mexican dishes. It’s the perfect addition to enchiladas, empanadas and quesadillas. It can also be sprinkled on top of salads, added to soups and is even used in some desserts.
As the name suggests, Queso Fresco is best consumed whilst fresh – it isn’t one of the cheeses that improves with age! The good news is that when stored in the refrigerator it can retain its freshness and taste for up to two weeks.
How to Make Homemade Queso Fresco
One of the great things about Queso Fresco is that it is relatively easy to make without specialist equipment. Because it doesn’t need to age to develop its taste, it is ideally suited for making and eating at home. Indeed, many Mexican cooks prefer to use their own homemade Queso Fresco in their dishes.
Making your own Queso Fresco is simple – the only ingredients you need are milk (a 50/50 mixture of cow’s milk and goat’s milk), vinegar and salt. The equipment you’ll be using are a pot, a colander, a large bowl, a thermometer to check the temperature of the milk and some cheese cloth. Finally you will need some twist ties or twine to tie up the cloth.
- First, add half a gallon of milk to a large pot. Heat over the stove on a medium heat.
- Whilst the milk heats up, place your colander into a large bowl and line with cheese cloth.
- Once the milk reaches a temperature of 170°F, take it off the heat and add 2/3 of a cup of vinegar. Give the mixture a couple of stirs and leave to sit for 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes curds should have formed. Cut them with a knife.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the curds from the pot and add to the cheese cloth in the colander.
- Once all the curds are on the cloth, stir in 1 and a half teaspoons of Kosher salt.
- Grab the edges of the cloth and bring them together to form a ball. Tie up the excess cloth.
- Hang the cheese cloth over your sink to dry, leaving for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the curds from the cloth. Press them together to form a flat disk, putting it back into the colander to dry for another 30 minutes.
- Once dry and no longer dripping, place the cheese in a sealed container and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
For a more detailed dive into the Queso Fresco recipe, along with step-by-step pictures, we recommend you check out this article by Analida over at Ethinc Spoon.
Best Queso Fresco Substitutes with Dairy
So what do you do if you’re cooking Mexican food and don’t have any Queso Fresco in the house, and you don’t have the time or ingredients to make it yourself? Fortunately there are alternatives that can be used in your dish to replicate the taste and texture of Queso Fresco cheese. Here are our top replacement cheeses.
Mild Feta Cheese
Despite hailing from a completely different part of the world, coming from Greece, Feta cheese is one of our favorite replacements for Queso Fresco. Feta is crumbly, soft and creamy just like Queso Fresco.
The key is to find a feta cheese with a mild taste that doesn’t overpower the flavor of your dish. If you can’t find mild feta, a top tip is to allow it to soak in water for a little while before using. This will take away some of the tanginess that is characteristic of feta.
Perhaps one of the best ways to replace a Mexican cheese is with another Mexican Cheese! Quesco Blanco – ‘White Cheese’, is quite similar in taste and texture to Queso Fresco. Whilst it is most commonly made from cow’s milk, Queso Blanco can also be made from a combination of cow and goat milk.
This cheese is a perfect substitute for Queso Fresco if you want to retain a touch of authenticity in your Mexican dishes. It’s widely available in supermarkets and can also be made at home.
Farmer’s cheese is similar to cottage cheese in that it is also made from dry curds with a mild taste and soft texture. It can be made from any kind of milk, with the texture of the final product influenced by the animal’s milk used.
Farmer cheese has a slightly tangier taste than cottage cheese which we think makes it more suited as a substitute for Queso Fresco. This is because this tang gives it a little bit of ‘bite’ that adds flavor to your Mexican dishes.
Because it has very low levels of lactose (check the packaging before buying as this does vary), farmer’s cheese is a great alternative for people who are lactose intolerant or on a dairy-restricted diet.
When using farmer’s cheese as a Queso Fresco replacement we recommend that you adjust the quantities given on the recipe. This is because although it has some flavor it is without a doubt more mild, so you will need to use more of it to achieve a similar cheese taste in your final dish.
Originating in India, paneer might not be the first cheese that springs to mind when you’re looking for something to add to Mexican recipes. However we think to ignore it would be a mistake.
A fresh cheese that is low in salt and best enjoyed un-aged, paneer shares some key characteristics with Queso Fresco. Paneer has a very mild taste and is actually quite low in flavor if you eat it by itself. However where it really comes in to its own is when added to other foods as it does fantastically well at absorbing flavors and spices.
This ability to interact well with spices makes panner a great queso fresco replacement to try next time you’re whipping up a flavorful Mexican dish!
Ricotta Salata is a form of ricotta cheese that has been pressed and dried for 3 months. This ageing process helps to remove some of the saltiness of other varieties of ricotta. This cheese is made using whey from either sheep’s milk or cow’s milk.
Ricotta Salata has a mild taste, making it best suited for sprinkling over salads and soups. It can of course also be used for dishes such as enchiladas, however we would recommend opting for one of the slightly stronger cheeses listed here.
The mild, buttery texture of Monterey Jack cheese makes it a delicious alternative to Queso Fresco when used in burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas and more. The mild and creamy texture means that it is a great complement for a variety of dishes that doesn’t run the risk of overpowering the base flavors.
One of our favorite things about Monterey Jack is that you can find it in almost any store. This means that even if you’re short of time and need to quickly grab a cheese to use as a replacement for Queso Fresco, you can quickly run out to your nearest store and pick up something that will do a great job.
Requeson, also known as Requeijão, is a cheese produced in Portugal and Brazil. It is similar to Ricotta in that is made from whey, however the resultant cheese is pressed in to an end product that has a much more solid consistency than Ricotta.
Requeson is an ideal cheese to use a replacement for Queso Fresco if you’re looking to reduce the amount of fat in your diet. It easily crumbles and can be sprinkled over your food to maintain the cheesy taste whilst cutting down on calories.
Vegan Queso Fresco Substitutes
As an ever-growing number of people opt for a vegan diet, it’s important to make sure that we’re still able to replicate our favorite foods without using animal products.
When it comes to a vegan alternative to queso fresco cheese, we want something that comes as close as possible to recreating the texture. For that, there is really only one alternative – Tofu.
Tofu is created in a similar way to many dairy cheeses, formed by pressing the curds that come from Soy milk. It is sold with varying textures, ranging from soft to extra firm.
Whilst it’s important to keep in mind that it is not a cheese, extra firm tofu comes closest to replicating the texture of Queso Fresco. When added to Mexican food it is like paneer in that it absorbs and brings out the spices of the overall dish.
Tofu is also a great alternative for non-vegans who are looking to reduce their dairy consumption.
What is the Best Queso Fresco Substitute?
In our opinion the best like-for-like substitute for Queso Fresco is mild Feta cheese. This is because its texture is very similar and it also crumbles and reacts to heat in much the same way.
Of course, your reason for wanting a cheese to replace Queso may be because you’re looking to cut down on fat or even dairy altogether. In that case, Farmer’s Cheese or Tofu could be the ideal choice for you.
Tips For Cooking with Queso Fresco and Substitutes
To get the most out of cooking with Queso Fresco or its replacements, follow these simple tips:
Store with care. Like all cheese Queso Fresco should be carefully stored to prevent changes in its taste and texture. Whilst some cheeses like fontina or parmesan get better with age, the freshness of this cheese (and replacements such as paneer, queso blanco and farmer’s cheese) is all important. To maintain freshness, store in an air-tight container in the fridge.
Choose the right substitute for your dish. Depending on the type of food you’re cooking, the replacement for Queso Fresco that you use should differ. For dishes that require cheese to be crumbled over the top, such as salads and soups, opt for a cheese that breaks up easily such as feta. For a meal that calls for cheese to be melted inside or over the top such as enchiladas and burritos, Monterey Jack might be your best bet.
Keep an eye on quantity. Especially when you’re using a substitute for the first time, don’t add too much to the recipe. Instead, start with smaller amounts and taste the food as you’re cooking. If you need a stronger flavor, add more of the substitute.